WATSON, TOMMY c.1935-2017

Law man of Karima skin group. He was born around 1935 in Anumarapiti in Western Australia, near the junction of its border with the Northern Territory and South Australia. His given names related to specific sites near Anumarapiti. Upon the death of his mother he was then adopted by Nicodemus Watson, his father's first cousin. Together they traveled widely, and Taught the young man the traditional skills required to lead a nomadic existence in the desert, including the fashioning of tools and weapons from trees using burning coals, how and what to hunt, and how and where to find water. Under Nicodemus Watson's guidance, Watson learned about nature and his people's ancestral stories, collectively known to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as Tjukurrpa.

 

Watson's first contact with white Australians was at the Ernabella Mission, which opened in 1940. After a short time at Ernabella, he returned to his community to be initiated. From that point forward living a traditional nomadic existence until his early teens and then working as a stockman and labourer.

 

Watson began painting in 2001, and was one of a handful of painters establishing the Irrunytju community art centre in 2001,[2] soon after gaining prestige in the Aboriginal Art movement, described by one critic as "the greatest living painter of the Western Desert".

 

Watson's work has received critical acclaim, both within Australia and internationally, with art critics drawing parallels between Watson and Western Abstract painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Kasimir Malevich, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.[5] John MacDonald wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that Watson "is a master of invention and arguably the outstanding painter of the Western Desert", going on to compare his use of colour to Henri Matisse.

 

In 2003 Watson was one of eight Indigenous artists, alongside Paddy Bedford, John Mawurndjul, Ningura Napurrula, Lena Nyadbi, Michael Riley, Judy Watson and Gulumbu Yunupingu, who collaborated on a commission to provide works that decorate one of the Musée du quai Branly's four buildings completed in 2006.

 

From 2004 Watson became well known for breaking away from the traditional art centre movement becoming the lead artist of John Ioannou’s Agathon Galleries. This move was pivotal in his future commercial success. Working in a more straightforward relationship with a dealer Watson was able to better present his work to a more sophisticated and wealthy clientele, expanding his international recognition. This was a representational model that undoubtedly propelled his work to become the most revered of almost any living aboriginal artist before him. It was this private dealer model that he steadfastly adhered to from this time til the end.

 

After a tumultuous period through 2011 and  2012, in early 2013, Watson moved to live with family in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Following an improvement in his health he resumed painting and through family negotiated to be represented by Yanda Aboriginal Art as agent and to exhibit with Piermarq Gallery Sydney and Metro Gallery Melbourne with the best of his late canvases meeting the market through this relationship. 

 

A genius of colour, this man and artist saw his country differently to almost any other contemporary painter. His expressive use of abstract colour was built up on the canvas in hypnotic fashion. Although his use of acrylic and stick were familiar to his contemporaries, no one laid out vision so uniquely, a man and painter we will never see the likes of again.